Following up on my earlier post on 2 Timothy in Rome…
When Irenaeus talks about Paul, he is mostly interested in Paul’s theology from his letters rather than the accounts of his travels or biography. However, as part of his support of apostolic succession in Rome, he does link Paul to this but never mentions his martyrdom. [By the way, I explore this further in a soon to be published essay on ‘Paul and Irenaeus’ in Paul and the Second Century: The Legacy of Paul’s Life, Letters, and Teaching, ed. Michael F. Bird and Joseph R. Dodson (London: T&T Clark, 2011).]
Irenaeus notes that Paul’s was in Rome and a ‘departure’ from there (AH 3.1.2), which leaves the outcome ambiguous, but there is clearly no speculation about his death. For his time in Rome, all Irenaeus says is that Matthew wrote his gospel, ‘while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the church. After their departure’, Mark and Luke, respectively, wrote their gospels based upon Peter and Paul’s teaching (AH 3.1.2; cf. 3.14.1). Rather than being martyred in Rome, Paul just departs. So, it would appear that Irenaeus thinks that when Paul wrote 2 Timothy (AH 3.3.3) that this was a subsequent imprisonment to the one recorded in Acts 28, but it’s not clear either way.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is explicitly to a church that he had not been to before, but the last we hear of Paul in Acts relates to his time in Rome. Luke ends with Paul spending two years in Rome. He ‘welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance’ (Acts 28.30-31). Is seems that Irenaeus, like Luke, is content for Paul’s story not to have a specific ending. In fact, it seems that the only reason Irenaeus gives a brief mention of Paul’s life and legal troubles in Acts 20-28 is so that he can defend the fact of Luke’s presence with Paul (AH 3.14.1).
Irenaeus asserts that Paul and Peter are the founders of the church in Rome. He returns to this a couple of chapters later when he speaks of the importance of apostolic succession and ‘tradition from the apostles’. Rather than recounting all the churches, he focuses ‘the church that is greatest, most ancient, and known to all, founded and set up by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul at Rome, while showing that the tradition and the faith it proclaims to mean comes down through the succession of bishops even to us . . . . For it is necessary for every church—that is, the believers from everywhere—to agree with this church, in which the tradition from the apostles has always been preserved by those who are from everywhere, because of its more excellent origin’ (3.3.2). Obviously this evidence fits well with his argument towards the apostolic succession of the bishops of Rome.
In the end, it is very interesting that Irenaeus also works from a position that Paul and Peter had an amicable relationship similar to that of Acts, but he builds it upon their relationship in Rome rather than any of the events reported in Acts.